Hugh Tracey was an English ethnomusicologist who traveled widely in rural Africa in the first half of the 20th century. This man’s life’s work turned out to be the reason that kalimbas are known and loved by so many in the world today.
The kalimba has a rich and varied history in Africa that stretches back as much as 3000 years, but the metal tines kalimba is only about 1300 years old.
A young Hugh Tracey is brought to Africa; he falls in love with its traditional music, and his life’s work eventuates in the kalimba’s entering western consciousness.
At a time when traditional African music was quickly disappearing and the African scales were being replaced by the Western scale, Hugh Tracey founded an institution to preserve African music and to promote research into African music.
After building over 100 different prototype instruments, Hugh Tracey brought easy-to-play, western-tuned kalimbas to the world in 1954.
The kalimba might not have caught on had it not been promoted in a Broadway music called Wait a Minim, had bluesman Taj Mahal not performed on it, and had Maurice White of Earth, Wind, and Fire not wowed a nation with his electrified kalimba playing.
7. Worldwide competition
With success comes competition and imitation - but really, the kalimba cat is out of the bag. What started out as a uniquely African musical instrument belongs to the world now.
With its ancient roots and its seemingly infinite new age possibilities, the kalimba continues to amaze the world. The future of this simple, traditional African instrument is a bright one.